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Mel Kiper Archive

Tuesday, March 8

Cyclones set to blow into K-State

NEWS & NOTES: Nov. 6

Editor's Note: Come along for the ride as Mel Kiper Jr. previews these key weekend games: Iowa State-Kansas State, Ohio State-Purdue, USC-Stanford, Virginia-Penn State and LSU-Kentucky.

IOWA STATE-KANSAS STATE
The 7-3 Iowa State Cyclones travel to Kansas State looking for their first victory in Manhattan since 1988. In fact, the Cyclones' last trip to Manhattan resulted in a 56-10 loss. In that game, Sage Rosenfels, currently a backup QB with the Miami Dolphins, was at the helm of the Cyclone attack.

Last year, Iowa State fell to K-State at home by a lopsided score of 42-3. The last competitive game between these teams was in 1999. Iowa State led 28-7 at halftime and appeared to be in control. But coach Bill Snyder managed to light a fire under the Wildcats, who roared back for a 35-28 victory that was keyed by a David Allen punt return for a TD.

Seneca Wallace
Iowa State QB Seneca Wallace could get back in the Heisman race with a strong game against Kansas State.
This time, Iowa State is looking to make a national statement against elite opposition. Plus, brilliant senior QB Seneca Wallace needs an upset victory or a close game (and the same vs. Colorado next week) to surge back into the Heisman Trophy mix.

Wallace has been outstanding thus far, throwing for nearly 2,500 yards and accounting for 20 TDs (13 through the air, seven on the ground). He's completing nearly 60 percent of his aerials.

As for next season, the million-dollar question is who will be the heir to Wallace at QB. While sophomore Cris Love is currently the primary backup, juco transfer Waye Terry and freshman Austin Flynn -- both of whom are red-shirting this season -- figure to be in the mix for the starting job.

Terry is viewed as more elusive, in the Wallace mold, while Flynn compares more to Rosenfels as a straight drop-back passer. I'm told that Flynn has impressed while working with the scout team in practice. The Cyclones will have plenty of experience surrounding the new QB. Eight offensive starters are expected to return next season, as well as seven defensive starters.

Meanwhile, Kansas State moved to 7-2 with its total domination of Kansas last week. In their two losses -- 35-31 at Colorado and 17-14 at home vs. Texas -- the Wildcats have come within a whisker of being unbeaten. Against Texas, they had a chip-shot field goal blocked that would have sent the game into overtime.

In addition to electrifying QB Ell Roberson, the Cyclones have their work cut out for them when it comes to containing sophomore tailback Darren Sproles. A 5-foot-7, 170-pounder, Sproles has put on quite a show this season, averaging 6.4 yards per carry and scoring 10 rushing TDs. He reminds me in some ways of Barry Sanders. Sproles needs just 31 yards Saturday night to become the sixth RB in Wildcats history to surpass 1,000 rushing yards.

The pleasant surprise with Sproles has been his durability. Through nine games, he has carried the ball 150 times. He also averages 10.3 yards on 15 punt returns.

A key to the success of Roberson and Sproles has been the All-American performance turned in by junior LG Nick Leckey (6-4, 290). Leckey has been one of the nation's elite left guards this season.

Defensively, junior OLB Josh Buhl leads the Wildcats with 105 tackles, while senior MLB Terry Pierce has recorded 77 stops (10 for loss) and four sacks. This season, the Wildcats have blitzed more than in past years, recording 11 sacks in the past two weeks.

In the secondary, junior SS Rashad Washington is an emerging star, but the marquee performer is super blue-chip senior CB Terence Newman. A potential early first-round NFL draft choice come April 26, Newman has been a jack of all trades for the Wildcats this season. In addition to his four interceptions and 11 pass breakups, Newman averages an impressive 15.4 yards on 16 punt returns. He also grabbed a 51-yard TD reception against Louisiana-Monroe on Sept. 7.

OHIO STATE-PURDUE
The unbeaten Buckeyes (10-0, 5-0 Big Ten), who remain in the national-championship mix, will no doubt remember their 2000 meeting with the Boilermakers in West Lafayette, when a Drew Brees TD pass to Seth Morales gave Purdue its first victory over Ohio State since 1988.

This time, on Saturday afternoon at Ross-Ade Stadium, the Boilermakers (4-5, 2-3 Big Ten) might be led by former starting QB Kyle Orton. That's because freshman Brandon Kirsch has been limited in practice due to a broken pinky finger on his right (throwing) hand. I'm told Kirsch is OK taking snaps from center and throwing the shorter routes, but the medium-range to deeper passes cause some difficulty.

Junior DT Craig Terrill is questionable due to a knee injury sustained against Northwestern on Oct. 26. However, he did return to practice Tuesday and might be able to play.

For the Buckeyes, the availability of standout freshman tailback Maurice Clarett remains a game-time decision due to his lingering shoulder injury. If Clarett can't go or is limited to spot duty, sophomores Lydell Ross and Maurice Hall will get the bulk of the carries.

USC-STANFORD
Coach Pete Carroll's Trojans (6-2, 4-1 Pac-10) are a major factor nationally -- and they're led by one of the top offensive players in the country, senior QB Carson Palmer. Keyed by improved decision-making, Palmer has turned in Drew Bledsoe-type passing performances on a week-to-week basis this season in the Pac-10.

In fact, Palmer is on pace to become the all-time leading passer in Pac-10 history and the conference's career total-offense leader. He has thrown for 10,305 career yards, trailing former Stanford Cardinal Steve Stenstrom (who's ahead by just 606 yards).

If Palmer continues to perform at this level the rest of the campaign and then puts on a show in the postseason, he could ultimately become a top-five pick in round one of the NFL draft. And he could potentially be in the mix as the No. 1 overall selection.

On the injury front, senior SS Troy Polamalu (USC's top defensive player) is hampered by a high ankle sprain and will still be operating at less than 100 percent.

The Trojans are on the road against Stanford (2-6, 1-4 Pac-10), whose defense is ranked seventh in the Pac-10, allowing 362 yards of total offense per game. But the Cardinal are developing a few potential future standouts. That group includes freshman DE Julian Jenkins, redshirt freshman LB Michael Craven and sophomore CBs Leigh Torrence and Stanley Wilson.

As for the veteran seniors, FS Colin Branch appears to have an NFL future. He's second on the team with 47 tackles and also has two interceptions. Branch became a starter over the last five games of the 2001 season and has shown steady improvement since then.

VIRGINIA-PENN STATE
Penn State's offensive skill-position talent -- including QB Zack Mills, RB Larry Johnson and WR Bryant Johnson -- tends to steal the headlines. But the defense has allowed an average of just under seven points per game in the past three weeks and an average of 18.6 points overall this season.

The defensive front four has been asserting itself of late, with seniors Jimmy Kennedy, Anthony Adams and Michael Haynes taking their performance up another level. Haynes leads the Big Ten with 9½ sacks and also has 16 tackles for loss and four forced fumbles. Kennedy ranks third in the conference with 63 tackles and is second overall with 14 stops behind the line of scrimmage. Adams has chipped in with nine tackles for loss.

Sophomore LB Derek Wake and senior FS Shawn Mayer have also keyed the defense. Wake, who sat out most of last season with a knee injury, has turned in a solid 2002 campaign, while Mayer has been all over the field for the Nittany Lions. He leads the Big Ten with 110 tackles and is second in the conference with four interceptions. Mayer missed the 2000 season with a knee injury, but two years later he's in the process of becoming the first defensive back in Penn State history to lead the team in tackles for two straight years.

As for the Nittany Lions' injury situation, it appears they're close to full strength. TE Casey Williams, who suffered a sprained knee against Michigan on Oct. 12, missed two games but returned last Saturday against Illinois. RG Tyler Lenda, who suffered a sprained knee against Ohio State two weeks ago that forced him to sit out the Illinois game, is reportedly close to 100 percent.

Penn State enters Saturday's game at 6-3 (3-3 Big Ten); Virginia is also 6-3 (4-2 ACC).

LSU-KENTUCKY
Last week against Mississippi State, second-year Kentucky coach Guy Morriss fired up the troops at halftime as Kentucky overcame a 17-16 deficit and rolled to a 45-24 victory.

While junior QB Jared Lorenzen leads the SEC in passing efficiency and tends to steal the headlines for the Wildcats, a key to their 6-3 campaign (2-3 SEC) has been the stellar performance turned in by junior WR Derek Abney and senior RB Artose Pinner.

Abney has made a ton of big catches, while also igniting the Wildcats with his brilliant return skills. He has already tied an NCAA single-season record with five returns for TDs (four have come on punt returns and one on a kickoff return).

Pinner leads the SEC with 996 yards rushing while also tying for the Kentucky team lead with 31 receptions. A strong, compact, determined runner, Pinner is also regarded as one of the most well-conditioned, durable athletes on the Wildcats. He's fast becoming an intriguing NFL prospect.

Defensively, senior rover David Johnson leads the Wildcats in tackles, while powerhouse junior DT Dewayne Robertson occupies blockers along the interior, battling through constant double-teaming to lead the way with four QB sacks.

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